I graduated from Texas A&M University one year ago yesterday with a Bachelors degree in Communication. Since then, I’ve worked for a national nonprofit, moved states, started a business, traveled across the country and backpacked some of our nation’s most unreal places.
I’ve talked to a lot of people, from journalists to business owners, authors, celebrity athletes, career adventure guides and industry legends.
I’ve mortified myself with failure. I’ve grown closer to the people I love. I’ve achieved a better understanding of who matters in my life most. Ultimately, I’ve found a good place and these are the 18 lessons I wish I knew when I started
You should celebrate moments that make you happiest, not what society tells you to
Las Vegas is cool. New Orleans is cool. Birthdays, graduation, New Years are cool. But that doesn’t make you obligated to celebrate them. If you don’t want to spend your money gambling and if you don’t want to struggle to stay up until midnight, you don’t have to.
Use your time and money in ways that make you happy. But do walk across the graduation stage or your mother will kill you.
Ask too many questions, even the stupid ones
It may seem stupid to you, but it’s not your fault for not knowing something right out the gate. Embarrass yourself with stupid questions. Its the only way we learn.
Keep a notebook of all the things about your job, day, life, politics, the world you want to learn. Do research and answer with research what you can. Then you’ll be less likely to sound stupid.
Learn something new every day
Strive to become an expert in everything you do. If that sounds intimidating, start small. Learn a new thing every day, whether its your colleague’s favorite coffee order, a new skill, a charitable aspect of your place of work, or an explanation as to why the DOW is up today.
Write down the thing that you learned. By the end of the year, you’ll know at least 365 things you didn’t know prior.
Listen to your parents. They’re smarter than you are.
A good place to direct your stupid questions: your parents. Often, they are where you can learn your “something new a day.” Ask about their background, what it is they used to do, their experience after school.
Make them experts in your life and you’ll receive so much free knowledge and lessons that make you less likely to make dumb mistakes.
Take a risk, weekly.
It doesn’t have to be big, but do something that makes your hands sweat, stomach flip, body shake. Even if its sending a risky email to someone outside of your circle or offering to present your findings to someone new. Invite a boss or a colleague out to lunch. Stretch yourself; it’s how we build confidence.
Follow the passion that makes your soul sing
In your life, you will find hundreds of things that make your heart happy. Reading, running, climbing, writing, traveling, exploring, meeting new people – whatever it is – figure out a way that your job and day-to-day can facilitate those passions.
You want to travel for a living? Maybe you go work for an airline. Want to go climb a mountain every weekend? Grab a sheet of paper and write down where you are in life now: Unemployed, College Station, Texas Dec. 2016. At the other side of the paper, write down where you want to be: Freelance Writer, Durango, Colorado Dec. 2017.
Then figure out the middle stuff. What will it take to bridge that gap? What big skills, qualifications, certifications, networks do you require and how will you acquire them?
Nobody owes you anything
Unless you create value for somebody, they don’t give a damn who you are. Nobody, even your best friend, owes you a big favor. It’s nice when you receive a favor, but they should never be expected. Prove to people the value you offer and sometimes, oversell it. “You should let me take this business trip to California, because only I hold the expertise in X, Y, and Z. And funding my trip will help this (really specific component of something you need) thrive.”
Oversell it, then put in the extra hours to make that oversale a reality. You won’t get anything you want unless you prove the value in what you do.
Take a break from routine
When grinding and busting your butt day after day, you’re going to lose sight of what made your heart sing in the first place. You pursued a job in the outdoor industry because you wanted to be close to the outdoors, but now you’re working 70 hours a week and you don’t have time to go camping.
Make time. Success doesn’t happen overnight and a break from routine will be a well-deserved reminder as to why you started.
A follow-up email can be the difference between getting the job/task/deal and not. Other people are busy and they may be interested in what you offer or willing to answer your question, but they forget and you’re not their top priority. Don’t get offended.
Depending on the ask, you should expect to send three inquiries: One initial ask, one follow-up the next week, and a third “How can I improve this to make you see/what questions of yours can I answer?” very short follow-up.
No response after that? Let that shit go.
Look at things from every perspective possible
Get out of your bubble and make deliberate effort to understand the perspective of everybody around you, in the news, above you. What are their motives? Why do they believe what they’re doing is right? Why are they pulling out of this investment? What does he know that I don’t? Ask a stupid question if necessary.
Take everything with a grain of salt until you truly believe you have enough data to make a judgment. Then figure out how you can utilize that data to your benefit.
Just because school is over doesn’t mean you should stop studying
Continue to learn. Read a book a week. Read the news. Understand how your role in society and your career impacts everything else. Is it a good impact or bad? Who is it good or bad for? Never let yourself fall into a bubble.
Download a News app on your phone
Stay up-to-date on the news. Read it every morning with your coffee. Don’t get all your information from Facebook. Get email notifications sent your phone from your favorite news station.
Download the relevant news apps for your industry? Outdoor industry: SNEWS, Outside Magazine, Backpacker Magazine, Adventure Pro, to name a few.
Stay in the know and use it in conversation; how others respond helps you figure out that whole ‘perspective’ thing.
Challenge the status quo
Challenging the status quo is the key to innovation. “We’ve been doing it this way for 10 years” is probably a bad thing. Challenge that and take extra time to figure out how you can improve or change a system. No, not part of your work time, take extra time.
Take more photos for You, and less for the world
You will never be an Instagram celebrity and you should stop acting like one. Take photographs that will make you happy.
A good practice: Scroll down your Instagram feed to one year ago today. Click a photo. Recall how and why you took that photo? What went into the process? What memories are brought up? If it’s a plate of spaghetti taken from a dinner you don’t remember or a photo of your hair from the back ruffled perfectly in the wind, decide if it makes you happy. Or do you think, “Man, I wish I could see myself smiling here.”
Take big opportunities, even the ones you don’t know how to tackle, and especially the ones that seem scary.
Offered something out of your comfort zone, out of your state, different from anything you’ve ever done before? Take it. Is it a piece of the puzzle to pursuing the life that makes your soul sing? Take it and figure the rest out along the way.
Keep in touch with your favorite professors
Letters of recommendation aside, if you bonded with a specific professor in college, it means something. They probably have a similar passion that makes their soul sing and you relate to it. They are life teachers too and if you are so fortunate as to have been taken under their wing, reciprocate. Send them Christmas cards, emails with big life updates, periodic thank-yous where you relate something they taught you to what you do now.
You will appreciate this for the rest of your life.
Identify your story
In the words of Shark Tank’s Barbara Corcoran, “Storytelling is everything. Show me an MBA and your sales numbers, that’s fine. But tell me a great story and we’ll talk.”
Nurture relationships with people who can help you
Like your relationship with your professor, appreciate those around you who can or have helped you. Become best friends with the smartest people you know, no matter what it takes. Choose good role models and nurture these relationships; ask them out for coffee. It may be that that is your “big risk of the week.”
Oh, and CALL YOUR GRANDPARENTS.